Posted in Eleanor Cawley

Pushing the Birds out of the Nest

Leaving the nest copyThese opinions are my own based on my personal school-based experiences and recent postings from other therapists on social media 

When is it time to discharge?

This is always one of the biggest questions when it comes down to CSE Meetings and whether or not to recommend services for students next year. Of course, in a school-based setting, the big ‘money makers’ are handwriting and now keyboarding. Before making that decision, I think that it is important to look at the student’s level of function in a particular environment. I feel that when we report progress a rubric is very important but so is the environment or context in which the skill is performed. When I look at either handwriting or keyboarding I look at the following:

  1. Can the student perform the task automatically with my assistance in a therapy room?
  2. Can the student perform the task automatically in the therapy room without my assistance?
  3. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom with my assistance?
  4. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom without my assistance?

This is an important factor that is left out of documentation on goal progress. Anyone that knows about me, knows that I love to use rubrics. I love documentation to be clear and concise, understood without my being there to explain. So I often base my documentation on the level of self-sufficiency-does the student have the power to perform the task over a wide range of activities and settings. In other words, is the handwriting or keyboarding at the level of being automatic? The DeCoste Writing Protocol is an evidence-based tool with some very good research supporting its development. Based on this research, both handwriting and keyboarding should be at the level of automaticity. If these skills are not automatic, then the focus in on the motor components of the task and therefore the student cannot meet the cognitive demands of the writing task. Basically, we will not know what the student has absorbed because he or she cannot get it on paper.

I remember hearing somewhere that in order to do your best on a test, you should take the test in the same location that the teaching or learning took place. Could that mean that a student may hand write better if he or she is in the room where they actually learned the skill? It is certainly an interesting point and possibly one for a good research study. Our goal is to have the student generalize the skills to all handwriting or keyboarding tasks-to become proficient. The Written Language Production Standards provides us with what is expected of a student with regard to handwriting and keyboarding at a particular grade level. Does your student meet those standards? Do you think that your student is capable of meeting those standards? Why or why not? Is the student capable of meeting those standards in a variety of settings without your support? Why or why not? I feel that I am not doing my job well, if I can’t answer these questions, my student is not performing as expected within the classroom and I have not offered alternatives.

There is also something else to consider and that is the student’s expectations and preferences. Is this student so overwhelmed with handwriting or keyboarding that they have just given up? I use The Student Interview to explore the student’s preferences and understanding of their own skills, i.e., what the student thinks they can do to what the parent thinks they can to and compare that to what I and the teacher see them do. The level of anxiety and frustration that a student experiences with not being able to express themselves on paper should be considered.

So while I would always like to think that OT RULES and I have all the answers, I don’t. What I do know is this, keep the student involved with determining goal progress, assess the skill across settings and keep the student in mind when determining where to go next, if anywhere. If you think that you can discharge a student when they can type 10 words a minute and they are in the 4th grade or above, think again. That student is not ready to handle the keyboard in the classroom.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

So Why Should Occupational Therapists Bother to Write Rubrics?

Mostly, therapists read my posts on social media and then move on. Some comment positively and others, not at all. But then there are those times when there  is that one person who challenges you. I must say, that one person tends to get my fight on! I feel that I have to prove my work all over again. But I really love the debate. To those of you who feel that rubrics are not necessary, that’s okay. However, I feel they are.
Rubrics have been around for a very long time. During my research for my book, “Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy“I found that rubrics actually began not in the educational field but in the medical field, decades ago. I feel that rubrics were lost in the shuffle in part due to the changes in the provider/client relationship, moving from power over to power with and ultimately to power through our clients. Now that we are searching for ways to become more ‘client-centered’ as a profession, I feel that transparent, understandable documentation is the key.

It has always been our premise, as occupational therapists, to have our clients engaged in purposeful activity. With the increasing intrusion of third-party payment systems into what we do with our clients and the struggle to become ‘client-centered’ having a method of recording progress becomes increasingly important. Yes, of course, we need to get paid for our work but we also have an obligation to our clients, any one receiving our services.

We all have those people, who question what we do.  I am sure that each and every one of us has had this experience.  Sometimes we can explain what is going on, through statements based on clinical knowledge, but then there are other times that we need real data.  Some challengers will accept the “+” or “-” system of data collection [“+” yes the client was able to perform the task or “-” no the client was not able to perform the task]  while

 

My Book Cover2
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others want more information.

So rubrics offer us a method of documenting some of our thought processing with regard to critical thinking, clinical reasoning and judgment. Sharing rubrics with clients and caregivers provides them with a tool to engage them in the treatment process in a way that is greater than just sharing goals.  By encouraging clients to monitor their own progress they become more vested, more engaged and more accountable to themselves and to us, their service providers, ultimately leading to greater gains.

Rubrics may be initially time-consuming to learn and to write, just like any other skill, the experienced therapist will soon be developing rubrics a lightening speed and have at their disposal a wealth of data and documentation supporting our services.  In my humble opinion, if a therapist chooses to use or not to use rubrics, it is okay, it’s their decision.  I choose to use rubrics, engage my clients in progress monitoring, and have data specifically highlighting the client’s progress.  In my opinion, how can I expect my clients to make the best progress if I do not share my expectations with them. I feel that I empower my clients through the use of rubrics, because I want to, not because I have to.

 

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Revisiting The Student Interview

The Student Interview CoverAI have worked with middle and high school students most often.  At this age, a student’s frustrations increase proportionally to the workload.  They are aware of what works and what does not work for them.  When frustrations run so high and parents begin to panic, it is at this time other professionals, advocate and lawyers, become involved.

The Student Interview was developed because of a number of school-based cases that I had been involved in were quite intense.  Every small detail of the case was explored in depth.  I felt that it was imperative that the student have a voice and that I had a document that asked all the right questions. While it is very sad to see the state of the educational system, as it is right now, I feel that the educational system is in transition.  There are always ups and downs when experiencing a transition.

Over the last few years, I have used this interview with many students.  Since this is a form to complete, it is good experience for a student in the transition process.  There is a variety of questions, relevant to the student’s educational, vocational and self-care needs.  Some questions require a yes or no response, while others are open-ended and call for more detail.  The Student Interview serves its intended purpose quite nicely. Since using The Student Interview, I have not had that “uh oh” moment when something comes up that I should be aware of.  At least nothing that I have not at least asked and have a response to.

I really love a student’s surprise when he or she is asked to complete the satisfaction survey.  This is often the very first time a student is asked for his or her opinion on services.  I, now, provide each student with this interview.  I find it an invaluable tool not only as written documentation but also as a basis for a deeper conversation regarding a student’s skills, and their perceptions of themselves.

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Annual Review will be here before you know it–Create Balanced Assessments!

That’s right!  Annual review season will be here in just a few months.  You should start writing your annual reviews shortly.  During annual review, it is prudent to get a student’s feedback on what is working and what is not working.  Make sure that you have a way to gain that additional information.  An interview is always helpful to provide insight on a student’s ability to function not only in the classroom but also at home.  Parents so often paint a different picture of a student’s abilities at home.  Students can behave differently at home.

This is the time to put all your ‘ducks in a row.’  When assessing your students, make sure to have a balanced assessment with some type of real-life [authentic] assessment.  This often means having a rubric to demonstrate how a student’s progress has been judged and the data that supports the student’s progress.

Think about interviewing your student to learn about his or her insights into their skills. Did you ever think about providing your student with a satisfaction survey?  This is quite eye opening.  By developing a rapport with your students, you have the opportunity to create a report that is quite inclusive of all their skills and their opinions.  Listening to and including your student’s opinions leads to better goal development, better outcomes and improved compliance with recommended strategies.

Engage your students in every way possible to participate in collecting data and the development of their IEP.  You will go a long way in developing the respect and the trust of your students.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, New Beginings, Occupational Therapy

Should Middle and High School Students Participate in the Evaluation and Annual Review Process?

Should Students Have a Voice?

Absolutely!  Most students at the middle and high school level are looking for a sense of independence.  Students of this age are often at a point where they want to know why they should continue therapy, and if they continue, why they can’t decide what they need to work on.  In a school setting, the goals need to relate to a student’s educational and/or vocational needs.  There is so much more information that a therapist needs to know to determine a student’s perception of his or her abilities and further determines whether or not a student really needs to continue.  Standardized test scores, although important, are only a snap shot of the student’s abilities at the time the student participated in the assessment.  It is not a clear and thorough picture of the student’s ability to function in a classroom.

I have often found that a student will provide more information if the questions are presented in a written format, particularly with sensitive areas, like activities of daily living, presented in checklist format.  Students will review the document, quickly at first, check an answer [which the therapist or teacher can expand on later] and then move on.  The written format provides a canvas, if you will, to create a dialogue with the student.  For example, let’s say that the student checks off that he or she can make a sandwich, ask the student how he or she makes that sandwich and you will get a better idea if he or she really is capable of making that sandwich.

I have developed a written interview, which I began using with some of my students over the last few years.  I was able to better assess a student’s abilities and perceptions of being able to care for him or herself and support classroom skills.  It prevents that ‘oh no’ moment when something is revealed in a CSE meeting that you should know but don’t surfaces.  When interviewing a student verbally, many of those items are glossed over and the interview proceeds.  A written document is a bit impersonal and the student may just answer more truthfully and feel more comfortable in doing so.

Let’s go back to that sandwich; a student checks off that he is able to make a sandwich.  Later, when reviewing the interview with the student, you ask, “How do you make that sandwich?”  The student lists all the items that he needs for the sandwich but is unable to describe how to actually make that sandwich.  This may indicate that a student has a form of dyspraxia or apraxia that has been addressed in other areas through years of therapy, but not yet in the area of self-care.  In very basic terms dyspraxia (problems with) or apraxia (unable to) refer to sequencing the steps to perform a skill.

This is enlightening and indicates other areas need to be explored.  When evaluating a student, all methods of gathering information should be used.  Standardized and non-standardized testing is important but so is the interview of the student and the teacher and authentic assessments, such as a rubric, to provide a balanced assessment of the student’s abilities.

A school-based assessment includes a reason for the referral [the problems that the student is having in the classroom], and his or her motivation for educational activities.  In my opinion, motivation can be broken down in to at least two components:  skill and desire.  If a student has limited or no skill in a particular area, there will be no desire to engage in the activity.

Motivation becomes a particularly important factor in the middle and high school years.  In order to encourage participation in therapy, students need to participate in and feel part of the evaluation process.  For one reason or another, a student may become disillusioned with therapy.  Comments may be made by peers, making the student uncomfortable with being pulled out of class.  Pushing into the class may not be an option either and may further target the student for comments and potential bullying.  At this point, if the student is so resistant to the therapeutic environment, consults may be the only option other than discharge.

Bibliography

Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, E. (2013). Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy. Huntington Station: Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L.